April 20, 2015

On Media Visuals of the Migrant Tragedy in the Mediterranean

Mediterranean migrants Numbers

If you’re not following the story, more than 7,000 migrants have been pulled from the Mediterranean in the past week and several boats have capsized drowning up to 700 people. In a striking example of visual language, the UNHCR is describing it as a “massacre.” These are some images and thoughts that struck me about the visual media coverage as photos filled galleries and illustrate news stories this morning.

Regarding the photo above, as much as the crisis calls out for increased worldwide responsibility to curb wars, address the mass movement of refugees and address economic inequality in the developing world, the photo speaks to two realities. First, it takes a certain scale of despair, and attendant drama, to attract serious attention. Second, even if photography does its best to counteract the fact, distress (and humanity) ultimately come down to numbers.


The image above comes from this tweet stating: “ANSA showing first images from the scene of the tragedy in the Mediterranean.” Personally, I couldn’t see past the irony, the screenshot showcasing western technology and maritime resources in the illustration of modest rescue attempts, many too late.

Migrant crisis NYT lead

I’m wondering if this photo leading off today’s NYT story on the humanitarian disaster — in the color, the appearance of the child, the composition, and especially, the rescue material — might have been a bit too fashionable or artistic?

Immigrant crisis malta

After seeing over a year of intense photo coverage of the Ebola crisis, the question here is whether these outfits color the story or taint the perception of the migrants more than they would have? If the photo seems to shout it, I haven’t read anything in the articles these photos came from about concern for disease.


Painful media dumbing down. In contrast to:


(photo 1: Alessandro Fucarini/AP caption: A rescued migrant holds a Gabinetto di Polizia Scientifica (Forensic Police Regional Cabinet) number after disembarking from an Italian Coast Guard ship in the harbor of Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. The European Union says that more than 7,000 migrants have been plucked from the Mediterranean since Friday as an unprecedented wave of people flee conflict and poverty seeking better lives in Europe. photo 2: ANSA via David Clinch/Twitter. caption: ANSA showing first images from the scene of the tragedy in the Mediterranean #migrantcrisis http://t.co/wPEEMVWUvJ http://t.co/6Vy7XCephr” photo 3: Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press caption: A member of the Italian Coast Guard carried a young migrant rescued from the capsized boat early on Monday in Sicily. photo 4: Matthew Mirabelli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images caption: Members of the Italian Coast Guard in Malta on Monday retrieved bodies of migrants who died when the boat carrying them capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. photo 5: screenshot via BBC:  photo 6: screenshot from news video via The Guardian).

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

The Big Picture

Follow us on Instagram (@readingthepictures) and Twitter (@readingthepix), and


A curated collection of pieces related to our most-popular subject matter.


Comments Powered by Disqus